It’s the end of the line for JoePa. You can slice it and dice it, wring your hands and tear your hair, chastise and moralize all you like, but in the end it boils down to one word: recruiting.
Penn State has a long and distinguished history, as both a football program and as an actual, you know, university. Its athletics program has never been tainted by any sort of scandal before, and that may well be because they have not, in fact, cheated (as opposed to the method employed by so many other schools, which is to cheat but not get caught). But make no mistake, Joe Paterno’s unprecedented run as head football coach, which dates back to the early 17th century, has far less to do with integrity than it does winning. At various points in recent years there have been rumblings in the PSU community that it was time for Joe to go, and all of those instances correlated directly with a failure to win on the field. When Paterno has bounced back and posted strong seasons the sniping has predictably died away.
That the program knowingly tolerated a pedophile in its midst, and that it afforded that pedophile access to young boys, is a grave charge and if a word of it is true anyone and everyone even vaguely implicated should be gone as a matter of principle. At this stage reports suggest that Paterno acted in accordance with his legal requirements in the matter (although details continue to emerge). However, where this sort of crime is concerned, satisfying your legal obligations and meeting your moral obligations are very different things.
Unless Paterno has something exceedingly compelling to say in his defense (such as “I called the police and they dismissed it”) there is simply no way he can ever recruit again. Kids of this generation have powerful expectations of adult authority figures and even those who have never met the man likely feel betrayed by him already. Then there are the parents to consider. Under what circumstances would you allow your son to enter a program that deals with pedophilia like it’s an archdiocese? You have to trust people to hand your children over to them and “we’re sorry, we won’t make the same mistake again” isn’t likely to be sufficient.
If you cannot recruit, you cannot win. And in the world of Big Money Football, if you cannot win it’s like what I used to say at closing time when I was a club DJ back in college: You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.
Reports suggest that Paterno is on the way out even as we speak, although nothing official is being reported at this time. I feel bad for the Penn State community (I have a number of friends who went there) and horrible for the victims. Given what I’m reading from that quarter today (words like “disgust” and “revulsion” are nowhere near the worst I’ve heard), I know that this is striking at a level that transcends mere sport.
The sooner the school can clear the decks the sooner the healing can begin. I hate it for Paterno, who strikes me as a fundamentally honorable man. But he needs to be gone, and it needs to happen today.
[UPDATE: It is now being reported that Paterno will resign at the end of this season.]
An edited version of this article was first published as Penn State Coach Joe Paterno Must Go. Today. on Blogcritics.